ANOTHER EARTHQUAKE HITS NEPAL
A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Nepal, near Mount Everest, today, two weeks after the devastating quake killed at least 8,000 in the Himalayan nation.
- At least 16 people were reportedly killed in today’s earthquake, according to the National Emergency Operation Center. Several buildings collapsed in the town of Chautara, in the eastern Sindhupalchowk district, Reuters reports.
- Aid agencies also say hundreds of people were injured, although the exact figure is still unclear.
- According to The Times of India, at least two people were also killed in India’s eastern state of Bihar, where shockwaves were felt.
- At least three landslides were reportedly triggered.
- The U.S. Geological Survey says the 7.3-magnitude quake struck at a depth of 15 kilometers. It was followed 30 minutes later by a 6.3-magnitude aftershock centered in the district of Ramechhap, east of Kathmandu.
French President François Hollande became the first top Western leader to visit Cuba since the island nation moved to reestablish relations with the United States late last year. Hollande spent Monday in Cuba, conducting talks with President Raúl Castro and meeting his older brother and leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro, in a rare public appearance for the 88-year-old former president. Read more in our Extra! feature.
ON THIS DAY
Happy birthday to both Tony Hawk and Alcoholics Anonymous. Learn more about this date's other notable events in your 57-second shot of history.
KERRY TO MEET PUTIN IN RUSSIA
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sochi today in what will be his first visit to Russia since the Ukraine crisis erupted in early 2014, Kommersant reports. They are expected to hold extensive talks about the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and the nuclear talks with Iran.
Pablo Picasso’s painting Women of Algiers (Version O) has officially become the world’s most expensive artwork after it sold for a record $179.4 million at Christie’s auction house in New York last night. The buyer’s identity hasn’t been disclosed, but The New York Times reports the final bid was made by phone. The previous record had also been set at Christie’s, when Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud sold for $142.2 million in 2013.
THIRD BANGLADESHI BLOGGER MURDERED
Ananta Bijoy Das, a secular Bangladeshi blogger, was hacked to death by a machete-wielding gang of at least four masked attackers today in the northeastern city of Sylhet, the BBC reports. The 33-year-old, who worked as a banker, wrote for Mukto-Mona, a website known for challenging religious extremism. It was formerly moderated by Avijit Roy, a Bangladesh-born U.S. writer who was killed in a similar manner earlier this year. This is the third such murder of bloggers perceived to be anti-Islam since the beginning of the year, local police say. Another, Washiqur Rahman, was murdered in a knife attack in March. According to the American jihadist monitoring website SITE, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) has claimed responsibility for the brutal killing. The previous attacks prompted massive protests in the country, as authorities have been accused of failing to protect critics of religious extremists.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
“We come here with a very clear mandate to improve Britain’s relationship with the rest of the EU, and to reform the EU so that it creates jobs and increases living standards for all its citizens,” British Finance Minister George Osborne told reporters before a meeting with his EU counterparts today in Brussels, The Guardian reports. Explaining that Britain would be constructive but firm in negotiations with the EU during the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s second term, he insisted there was no more doubt regarding the referendum on Britain’s EU membership set to be held in 2017. For more on this, we offer this Les Echos/Worldcrunch piece, Cameron Victory Threatens United Kingdom And United Europe.
STRIKES HIT YEMEN HOURS BEFORE CEASEFIRE
Photo: Hani Ali/Xinhua/ZUMA
Saudi-led airstrikes pounded Yemen’s capital Sana’a today hours before a five-day truce was set to begin between the alliance of Gulf Arab nations and the Iran-allied Houthi militia that controls much of the country, Reuters reports.
WHITE HOUSE DEFENDS SAUDI KING’S NO-SHOW
The White House has insisted that Saudi King Salman’s abrupt decision to skip U.S.-hosted regional talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council in Camp David Thursday was not a snub to President Barack Obama, CNN reports. The talks aimed to ease the concerns of Gulf leaders over a framework nuclear deal the U.S. reached with Iran. Saudi officials have said the king’s absence was “due to the timing of the summit, the scheduled humanitarian ceasefire in Yemen and the opening of the King Salman Center for Humanitarian Aid.”
“What did you do this weekend?” — “Oh, you know, flew expand=1] around the world’s tallest building with a jetpack and stuff.”
It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.
PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.
Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.
Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.
Share capital of one billion
The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).
The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.
Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.
While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.
The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down
Raising Initial Coin Offering
Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.
For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."
What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".
Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.
Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.
Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.
- Crypto Tipping Point: Is Digital Currency Too Big To Fail ... ›
- Bitcoin, Petro, Libra ... Why Cryptocurrency Isn't Really Currency ... ›
- Inside The Himalayan Hideaway Of Chinese Bitcoin Mines ... ›